Friday, February 20, 2009

I've been Rockboxed

I'd been thinking about getting an MP3 player for a while. All my family members had iPods of various shapes and fashions, but something about Apple's aura of lemming-like cool turned me off. Then one day I got an email flyer from NewEgg selling a refurb Sansa e250 2GB mp3 player for $25 -- free shipping!

How could I resist?

There are a ton of these e200 series Sansa refurbs out there, almost always cheap, being sold by various discount electronic shops, including NewEgg,, and even Sansa. Some are 2GB, some are 4GB; occasionally you'll see an even larger one. While not as sexy as the ubiquitous iPod, they have a sturdy utilitarianism about them that I find appealing

Part of the appeal of these little gizmos is they have a micro SD expansion slot. Here's where it gets complicated. Older (version 1) models only recognize the SD micro card, maximum 2 GB. The newer (version 2) models recognize the SDHC microcards, which come with up to 16GB of storage.

So I ordered. And got the version 1: maximum 2 GB.

Fear not! Rockbox to the rescue.

Rockbox is a 3rd party open source firmware replacement that you can install on any supported devices that gives you a much greater array of functions and options. One of these is that it will recognize the higher capacity chips (though you have to load the chips from a flash memory reader then insert it, since you cannot yet use Rockbox to sync up your music -- still a small price to pay). In a great bit of additional irony, Rockbox does not yet run on version 2 Sansa player--and this includes most of their current product line.

So besides the ability to use larger external chips, what does Rockbox give you?

  • Much more sophisticated sorting and search
  • Support for album cover art (.bmp files)
  • Support for additional audio formats, including ogg, wma (though not DRM encumbered), wav and flac
  • Themes for the user interface
  • Plugins and games - including Sokoban, Jewel Quest, Frozen Bubble and, of course, DOOM.
  • Bootloader, which allows you to boot into the original factory firmware (which is necessary for some basic tasks)

Now granted, Rockbox is not for everyone. It does require a bit of a hacker mindset, since with such an expanded feature set, things are a bit more complicated. And currently you can't charge the device or load music without booting to the original firmware (which is easy to do).

Rockbox supports a number of (usually older) devices, including older iPods. I recently inherited my youngest son's 30GB iPod classic and stuck Rockbox on it. Apple junkies see it and feel the ground shift beneath them. I love it.

Sound interesting? Got an older mp3 player stuck in a drawer you aren't using? Go to the Rockbox web site or Wiki and see if it's supported. While I wouldn't put this on a device I was going to give to my intelligent but non-technically minded spouse, if you are of an inquiring nature -- by all check it out.

I love my Sansa, and now I love it even more.


Gorilla Bananas said...

When I need to hear music I sing. It's more eco-friendly than a gizmo.

Dr Ralph said...

I sing too but I'm told that's not very eco-friendly either (something about noise pollution).

Dr Ralph said...

Mr. Bananas -- great blog you've got. I've added you to the blog roll!

Gorilla Bananas said...

Thank you, Dr Ralph, I shall return the favour.